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IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC)

Advancing knowledge and cooperation for a healthy ocean and prosperous society

Need to accelerate ‘upwelling’ studies highlighted at 2nd WESTPAC Workshop on Upwelling

Despite their close link to high ocean productivity, upwelling systems remain poorly investigated in the South China Sea and its adjacent seas. Ongoing and future actions to rectify this were at the center of the recently concluded WESTPAC (IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific) international workshop held January 26 to 27, 2021 virtually, the second workshop on the topic, and held at the dawn of the new Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The workshop, hosted by the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, attracted over a hundred marine researchers and resource managers from the Western Pacific region, who, not only had the opportunity to listen to presentations on the latest research on upwelling, but as well to exchange ideas about how upwelling studies could contribute to sustainable development of marine and coastal resources in the region.

Occurring in the open ocean and along coastlines, upwelling is a process in which deep, cold ocean water rises toward the surface to replace the water that was pushed away by winds blowing across the ocean surface. Water that rises up to the surface is typically rich in nutrients, which results in ‘fertilized’ surface waters that often have high biological productivity. Nutrient-rich waters encourage the blooms of the phytoplankton which are at the base of the marine food pyramid:  phytoplankton provide food for zooplankton such as copepods, fish larvae and jellyfish, which in turn are food for the larger animals such as fish, shellfish, squid, whales and bird.

In view of the limited scientific knowledge on upwelling systems in the region and its importance to ocean productivity, the IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) established a regional project on Upwelling Studies. As such a research group of marine scientists from various institutions around the region was formed in 2018 to investigate the dynamics of upwellings in the region.

“Upwelling is not well investigated in many small-scale sites in the South China Sea and adjacent seas,” Mohd Fadzil Akhir from the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and Principal Investigator of the IOC-WESTPAC Upwelling Programme, remarked. “And to advance regional research cooperation and to facilitate knowledge and technology exchange, in order for the very unique and different characteristics of these small-scale upwelling sites to be studied and be known, is really the initial focus of the Upwelling group.”

Formed in 2018, the WESTPACT Upwelling research group investigates upwelling dynamics in the region. At the 2021 workshop, marine scientists investigating upwelling from various institutions around the region presented studies of upwelling dynamics, including: seasonal and interannual variations of surface chlorophyll-a in the Karimata Strait; chlorophyll variability in the tropical South China Sea; the effects of monsoon variability and ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) in upwelling dynamics; and the upwelling dynamics in Southern China Sea, Northern South China Sea, Northwestern Japan Sea, and in the Philippines. Field observations, as well as remote sensing and modeling technologies, have contributed to these investigations.

To the project’s initial eight focus sites – Northern South China Sea, Vietnam Coast, Peninsular Malaysia Eastern Coast, Java-Sumatra Coast, Banda Sea, Sabah Northwest Coast, Zamboanga Peninsula, and Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea – workshop participants added five new sites, bringing the total number of upwelling study sites to 13.

“Upwelling studies in this region are important not only to inform fisheries management, but also marine biodiversity conservation,” remarked Vo Si Tuan, WESTPAC Chairperson, from the Vietnam Institute of Oceanography. “The South Vietnam Upwelling, for example, is one major ocean process in the South China Sea.”

How to ensure that upwelling studies could truly support sustainable development goals in the region, especially in light of the 2021 to 2030 Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, had been another major point of discussion at the workshop. In addition to developing a web-based information portal on upwelling sites in the region, plans are underway for Upwelling research group members to elaborate on how to sustain and further develop this regional project – including through innovative partnerships and synergies with other WESTPAC’s research efforts – in order to serve the goals of the Ocean Decade.

Drawing on the expertise of marine researchers studying almost all aspects – physical, biological, chemical, productivity – of the ocean, studies on upwelling tend to engage a wide range of scientific interest. The Sub-Commission strongly encourages resource managers and marine scientists, particularly early career ocean professionals, to join the Upwelling project. If so interested, please reach out to

Watch below the 2nd WESTPAC Workshop on Upwelling, 26-27 January 2021.